The World Economic Forum is essentially a world of meetings: staged, circumvented,
formal, organized meetings to which access is tightly restricted. The annual Davos meeting,
the WEF showcase meeting, is also a microcosm of the organization, set up in a small place
but speaking to bigger issues. Ethnographic fieldwork in organizations such as the WEF –
and more broadly in corporations, state agencies, and international organizations – often
involves doing fieldwork in workshops, at ceremonies, and at other staged, formal events. In
addition, such fieldwork tends to be multilocal, mobile, and discontinuous. What, if
anything, can we learn from doing ethnography in such small, temporary meeting places,
where we may not even have full access?
The paper shows that researching an organization such as the WEF is as methodologically
and theoretical challenging as it is rewarding. It is argued that to understand the practices
constituting meetings we need to broaden the perspective of the meeting as a phenomenon.
The meeting as research locus should not be seen as a given entity, but as a contingent and
continually constructed social arena. In the WEF case the meeting is both a continuous
organizing effort, and a social arena, temporarily bounded in time and space.
32nd EGOS Colloquium, Organizing in the Shadow of Power, July 7–9, 2016 Naples, Italy